Now that we've all awoken from our holiday-meal-induced slumber, the Grizzlies are back in action tonight, too, in a nationally-televised road game against the Dwight Howard, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets. The two teams have only played one time so far this season, and that game was at FedExForum the Monday after Marc Gasol's knee injury sidelined him indefinitely. Needless to say, it did not go well.
Tonight, the Grizzlies are coming off their first two-game winning streak since the last two games of the mid-November West Coast road trip. The problem (if you choose to call it that) is that those two wins have come against the Knicks, who are maybe the only other team in the league as injury-riddled as the Grizzlies, and the Jazz, who are (1) not very good and (2) still managed to make it a close game.
Tonight will be the real test. The Rockets just beat the Spurs, and it was against the Rockets in the preseason that the Grizzlies had a big blowout loss that started people asking questions about what was going on with this year's model Grizzlies team. Here are some things to watch for:
• Managing Dwight Howard will be difficult without Marc Gasol to anchor the middle of the defense, but not impossible. The Grizzlies have other defenders who each have a single attribute that helps in containing Howard (Koufos with size, Davis with athleticism, etc.) but none with several of those attributes in one player, which means coach Dave Joerger will have to choose his lineups wisely. Ed Davis started at center against the Knicks, and Koufos got the start against the Jazz on Monday, so it's anybody's guess.
• Tony Allen has got to guard James Harden like his life depends on it. Fortunately for the Griz, Harden is one of the "big name" players for whom Allen is always guaranteed to turn up—unlike the spot-up guys that it seems like he's been helping off since last year's playoffs (lookin' at you, Gordon Hayward's 16 points on Monday night. The interior defenders are going to have their hands full, so keeping Harden as contained as is possible—keeping him from getting to the rim—is going to be vital to the Grizzlies' chances tonight.
• James Johnson has been very solid in his two starts at the small forward spot. Look for that to continue, and even though his shooting was poor in the Jazz game Monday, he ended with four blocks, some of them spectacular, and he used his athleticism around the rim to get rebounds and putbacks that are sorely needed by a Grizzlies team that has to scratch and claw for every point they score. Johnson has a legitimate shot at locking up the starting job at the 3, and I'm sure he realizes that.
• Z-Bo gotta Z-Bo. I assume Dwight Howard will be guarding him, but no matter (easy for me to say, I know): Zach Randolph needs to get the inside game going for the Grizzlies. Drag the Rockets into the mud.
It'll be interesting to see how the Grizzlies—potentially featuring the newly-signed Seth Curry—will do tonight against a Houston team that has been playing pretty well as of late. (Except for that 33-point loss to the Pacers on Saturday...) (And that loss to the Kings in Sacramento on the 15th...) My point is that the Rockets are a good team, but they're certainly not unbeatable. The Grizzlies have always struggled to win in Houston, even completely healthy. But this Griz team is fairly solid on the road and shaky at home, so maybe this is the year that they flip the script. It's going to take an all-around good game from the Grizzlies (with none of those ten-minute dead stretches we've come to know and loathe this season).